How much weight can a horse carry: Key Facts


Image Credits: Horses (CC BY 2.0) by Dace Kiršpile

There is a perception that horses can carry heavy loads. But adding extra weight to a horse can reduce its abilities. Here, we will discuss how much weight can a horse carry and related key factors.

The thumb rule is that an adult horse can comfortably carry around 20% of its body weight. That being said, the load-carrying capacity between an adult horse, a mule, and a pony may vary. While a mule can carry 20-30% of its body weight, ponies may be weighed between 400 and 800 pounds.

But we should not generalize the 20% weight carrying rule for all horses. The load-carrying capacity in horses may vary depending upon various factors like breed, level of fitness, metabolism, and terrain to name a few.

So, let us proceed further and discuss in detail the different aspects of horses’ ability to carry weight.

Factors affecting the horse’s carrying capacity

Image credit: “Horses” (CC BY 2.0) by isamiga76

Undoubtedly, horses are versatile animals and can carry heavy loads. Although the thumb rule is to weigh a horse 20% of its body weight, it should not be taken in a generalized sense. A horse’s carrying capacity depends on several factors and here we will go over them

1.  Conformation

The shape of the horse, especially the saddle area, can significantly affect the horse’s carrying capacity. Studies have found that horses with a broad loin and thicker back legs are more capable to carry heavyweights. Any horse, with this confirmation, can easily exceed the thumb rule of 20%. On the other hand, horses with thinner legs may only carry 18% of their body weight.

2.  Breed

The weight carrying capacity of a horse can largely depend on its breed. For instance, Icelandic horses can carry 22.6% of their body weight, which is higher than the general weighing rule. On the other hand, breeds like the Paso Fino breed can carry up to 25% of their body weight comfortably.

3.  Level of fitness

The health and level of fitness of a horse are significant factors contributing to its carrying capacity. A healthy and fit horse can carry heavy weight whereas, an unfit one may struggle to carry even 20% of its body weight. Lack of fitness can affect the horse’s capacity to find the correct balance to carry weight.

4.  Rider’s weight and expertise

When we say that a healthy adult horse can carry 20% of its body weight, it includes the weight of the gear as well as the weight of the rider. Hence, before choosing a horse to ride the rider must do the calculations. In addition, the expertise of the rider can also impact the weight carrying capacity of the horse. This is so because untrained riders may fail to shift their body weight and throw the horse off balance easily than trained riders.

5.  Activity undertaken

If the horse is undertaking intense activities, that too on uneven terrain, it may get tired easily. Also, high-speed activities can reduce the capability of the horse to carry heavy weights as it will give more effort to carry out the activity. Similarly, the weight-bearing capacity of a horse will enhance on a plain terrain than on a muddy or rocky surface.

How do I know if I’m too heavy for my horse?

Image credit: Horse Riding by TheOtherKev from Pixabay

The key to a comfortable ride on a horse is to ensure that you are not putting excess weight on it. So, a common question that may arise in your mind is that “whether you are too heavy for your horse”. Let us delve deeper to answer this perplexing question.

You will know that you are being too heavy for your horse if you find it’s back inured, muscles tightened, or a problem like a leg soundness. Apart from these, your horse will also show some obvious signs of physical stress and burnout like breathing faster with elevated heart rate and lactate levels.

It is best if the size of the horse is proportional to the rider. But, in the real-life scenario, there is no scientific formula to determine what is “too heavy” or “too light” for a horse. That being said, as per the study conducted by the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, the weight of the rider must be less than 15% of their horse’s body weight.

Can you be too small to ride a horse?

There is no definite answer to it. As we have stated earlier, the rider’s size must be in proportion with the size of the horse. So, it is always advisable to get a horse that suits your build. You can be too small to ride a horse if you ride a horse that is massively too big compared to your size and stature. More than the size of the rider, what means more is the capability of the horse to carry the rider, which depends on its own size, build, stature, breed, and other factors.

Can a horse carry two riders?

It is interesting to know that an adult healthy horse can carry two riders at a time. However, it must be taken care that the weight of the riders should not exceed the 20% weight carrying rule.

That being said, to double ride a horse you must:

●        Be able to sit comfortably with your co-rider in the saddle

●        Take the double ride occasionally

●        Consider the weight, size, age, stature, and fitness of the horse

●        Consider the task the horse will undertake with the double rider

●        Select a calm horse

●        Be well experienced as a horse rider

Can a horse carry three riders?

The answer to this question again depends on the age, size, stature, and breed, and health condition of the horse. However, it may not be advisable to triple ride a horse, as there might be the chance to fall off its back. This is more apt if the horse has a lean back, as the riders, in that case, may not get sufficient space to sit on the saddle. Moreover, it should be remembered that three riders, and the saddle, may exceed the maximum weight carrying capacity of an adult horse, making the entire riding experience concerning.

How much weight can a mule carry?

Image credit: “Mule train” (CC BY 2.0) by dnak

A mule is a crossbreed of a mare (female horse) and a jack (male donkey). Mules are priced for their toughness and docile temperament. They are very good at carrying heavy loads on their back but their pulling capacity is amazing.

It is generally taken that a mule can carry 20-30% of its body weight. Although horses are known for carrying huge loads, when it comes to mules, they don’t disappoint either. In fact, mules have the ability to carry more weight than a horse of the same size due to their unique muscle structure.

That being said, you must not generalize the mule’s capacity to carry weight, as it depends on different variables like fitness, size, and so on.

How much weight can a pony carry?

Image credit: Pony Riding by Pezibear from Pixabay

Ponies and horses are of the same species with the only difference in their size. While horses can grow to a fuller size, ponies stay small throughout their life. Ponies come in different conformation, temperament, height, and so on. They are traditionally used for riding, hauling loads, and driving.

Since, ponies are also horses, the thumb rule of 20% weight carrying gets applicable in their case as well. On average 9 to 14 hands ponies may weigh between 400 to 800 pounds, so their load-carrying capacity tends to vary between 80 and 160 pounds.

Ponies are most suitable to be ridden by children and adults with less body weight. However, as we have always stated, the conformation, height, health condition, and other factors can vary the weight carrying capacity of these animals. For instance, a tall and healthy pony weighing around 1000 pounds can comfortably handle loads of around 200 pounds. Here it is also essential to mention that while riding a pony, one should remember not to exceed the 15% body weight rule. Riders weighing more than 15% of their horse’s weight can damage the horse’s joints.

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